Recoleta moderna, una renovación a medida.
Hace ya más de un año recibimos un llamado telefónico de una mujer con un acento un tanto particular. Por su forma de hablar nos dimos cuenta de que no era Argentina, pero nos contó en un perfecto español que era arquitecta y estaba remodelando su futuro departamento. Sin mucho preámbulo, coordinamos una visita para ese sábado por la mañana. Así fue como conocimos a Jill por primera vez en nuestras viejas oficinas del CMD en Barracas. Y no vino sola: la acompañaba su marido Michael y sus tres hijos Georgia, Jasper y Jace. Si bien ella era la “Chief Designer” de la familia, todos tenían voz y voto para lo que iba a ser el proyecto de su nueva casa en Recoleta.
Fue en una de sus posteriores visitas donde nos mostró sus ideas que nos dimos cuenta de que este iba a ser un proyecto especial, de esos que tanto nos gustan y disfrutamos ser parte, en donde hasta el más mínimo detalle está diseñado con paciencia y dedicación. Es sumamente personal cuando un profesional trabaja sobre su propio hogar, pero Jill parecía que estaba nacida para hacerlo.
Al abordar este proyecto desde NOI y pensar en escribir estas palabras, no parecía injusto enfocarnos solamente en la arquitectura de nuestros calcáreos, y que no tengan ustedes también la posibilidad de saber un poco más sobre Jill, su trabajo, su historia y su familia. Créannos que es algo que no se van a querer perder. (ACLARACIÓN: para no perder la magia de sus respuestas, las mismas están en inglés, tal cual las escribió ella).
TRAYECTORIA DIVERSA. “I grew up near Seattle, Washington in the United States. I studied for several months in London during a University study-abroad program. Out of university (before graduation school) I worked at a large firm in Florida doing civic projects. It was a great experience in working on large-scale buildings, coordinating with large teams and doing professional presentations to institutions, but it lacked something personal that I really wanted to do as an architect. After graduate school in Firenze, Italia I spent several months pursuing a position working for Massimo Carmassi, a very well-known architect from Pisa. During my two years working in his studio, I learned an incredible amount, particularly about how to think critically about historically-rich contexts, and evaluate what is good, beautiful and worth preserving and celebrating, and when you need to clear away the clutter. This marriage of the historical with the modern and how that can be accomplished not only harmoniously, but in a way that elevates the beauty of each was just magic. It’s a formula I am always striving for. I think it brings the most sublime pleasure to inhabit spaces that embrace the past and the future in a poetic way. I plan to spend the rest of my career chasing this perfect mixture of archeology and invention that help us connect to wherever we are in a more meaningful way.
After returning from Italy I moved to Seattle, in the state of Washington (where I am originally from) and began working for a tiny studio doing very high-end, custom residential projects. Through this work I found what I really love to do. I worked my way up to Principal of the firm - then had my first child and decided to move to Hong Kong when my husband received a dream offer to work there.”
FAMILIA DE MUNDO. Sus viajes durante sus estudios fueron apenas el preámbulo de todo lo que se vendría después. El amor por este estilo de vida la llevo a vivir en varias ciudades y nutrirse de sus distintas culturas. “After getting married and having my first child in Seattle (my daughter, Georgia), we moved to Hong Kong with my husband’s work when she was just a few months old. We lived in Hong Kong for two years, totally falling in love with the city and even buying a crumbling old apartment in the SOHO neighborhood and remodeling it, intending to stay “forever”. As it turned out, the day we moved into the new apartment my second child (Jasper) was born - and an exciting job opportunity for my husband presented itself in Beijing, China. Though we didn’t want to leave Hong Kong we decided to go for it. We remained in Beijing for four years, where I had my third child (Pace) and started a company designing textiles. It was an amazing, exciting and difficult time - but we really learned so much about ourselves, about people, about the world during the four years we lived there. It was through designing textiles during this time that I truly came to appreciate the magic, the power of understanding the world through its traditional patterns - and realized while I had previously embraced a very clean, almost pure aesthetic in my architectural work, that I had been missing out on the opportunity to connect with the world through the patterns and textures that are a part of each place. Through studying the traditional patterns found in Chinese architecture and art, and translating those into stylized, modern interpretations in textiles I found the fusion of time and culture so interesting and powerful, especially for people like my family who are so interested in exploring and understanding as much of this planet as possible - not just as tourists but in living for as long as possible in different places. Through these experiences I think we continue to understand fundamental truths in design and the impact they have on human beings. I find myself fascinated by the differences I always encounter, then obsessed by the common things we all need to feel safe, happy and connected to our family, our friends, and our place. This all begins at home and that’s where I want to contribute.”
BUENOS AIRES QUERIDA. Su amor por viajar no terminó allí. Luego de vivir en Hong Kong y Beijing, desembarcaron en Buenos Aires donde vivieron por cinco años y, en la actualidad, viven en San Francisco, California. “It was after four years in Beijing that my husband met two founders of despegar.com and accepted a chance to come work with them here in Buenos Aires where we’ve been for the last five years. This month I relocated with my family of five to San Francisco, California with a very heavy heart (not wanting to leave Buenos Aires!) - but leaving with tears is actually a testament to a life well-lived in beautiful Argentina that I will never let go of! I continue to stay in touch with my design partner, sculptor, artist, designer here (Mariana Gonzalez Menghi) and hopefully can continue to help her on her many creative projects in the future.”
Para los que vivimos en esta maravillosa ciudad, a veces damos por sentada su belleza y la agenda cultural que ofrece, pero verlo, o en este caso leerlo, a través de los ojos de otra persona siempre es una buena ayuda-memoria: “Argentina is a beautiful country with an amazing variety of urban and natural landscapes. Not only did I fall in love with the city of Buenos Aires, but the beauty of each region we visited as a family during our years here was incredibly memorable and inspiring. But what truly made these travels around the country some of the most memorable days of my life were my friends with whom we travelled. My Argentine friends showed me a depth of friendship I’ve never experienced before. It’s never fair to generalize, but I have to say that in general, Argentine’s seeming to value human connections and prioritize time with family and friends more than any other culture I’ve ever experienced. The value placed on sharing travel, meals, good times (and bad times) together had a huge impact on how my own family now makes decisions about life, and definitely how I now think about designing spaces for joy and togetherness above all else”
Al ser colegas, nos interesaba mucho saber cómo vivió la experiencia de trabajar en Argentina habiendo trabajado en otros países del mundo. Sin lugar a dudas debía haber cosas similares y otras muy distintas a las cuales adaptarse: “I found working in Hong Kong very similar to working in argentina. The methods and materials of construction were similar and the role of the architect as a more on-site supervisor was similar. Also like in Hong Kong, labor costs were relatively low compared to the cost of materials for very labor-labor-intensive solutions were always possible. In contrast, in the United States, labor costs are the most expensive part of the project so one often tries to do designs that use more off-the-shelf materials and you can’t afford as many labor-intensive custom details. The role of the architect is also completely different than in Argentina. When working in the U.S. we had to do much more extensive drawings, details and specifications, but weren’t on the job site as much as in Argentina, leaving the responsibility of ensuring construction details are followed up to the general contractor. Roles are much more defined between these two arenas. Now having worked in both environments, I can’t say which works better, but I can at least say I’ve learned to be a very flexible designer and am fine tackling projects in either way!
My days in Argentina were always a little crazy, like everybody! Honestly my three children were always the number one priority for me - and once they were up and delivered to school I was usually at my drawing table an hour or two each day developing designs or doing research, with the rest of my time running around the city sourcing materials for one project or another, visiting a job site, and ideally doing all of these things side-by-side with my dearest friend and collaborator, Mariana (Gonzalez Menghi). Together with Mariana we not only designed apartment renovations, we were usually cooking up unique solutions that required a lot of research, collaboration with local craftspeople, digging around in material supply stores and sometimes getting our hands dirty on the job site. Many days it felt like one step forward and three steps backwards, but that’s okay. I don’t think anything really truly remarkable was ever reached in a straight line!”
Como ya mencionamos, antes de hacer de este su hogar, vivieron en zona norte, provincia de Buenos Aires, pero tomaron la decisión de mudarse a pleno centro de la ciudad. Este fué un cambio bastante radical que claramente denota un espíritu aventurero y poco conformista. Podría decirse que fue una decisión bastante fuera de su zona de confort: “As a family, we’ve chosen to live in four countries over the last ten years. These choices were never made to find the “easy” path, but rather the path that would be the most enriching, the most interesting, and ultimately help us see the world through new perspectives. When we arrived in Argentina, we chose Vicente Lopez because it was near our children’s’ school. They were only 2, 4 and 6 years old at the time and I wanted to be close! We always knew, however, that to really experience the very most of Buenos Aires, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, we wanted to be in the center of the city. Nowhere can you replicate the exact formula of architecture, people, parks, restaurants, theaters, shops, etc. that is Buenos Aires. For many it may not appear the easiest choice, living in the middle of a city with three children, but it is so much richer to live in the middle of this gorgeous context that is Buenos Aires. Suburbs are something I can find in many places, but there is only one center of Buenos Aires and we would have to be crazy to miss a chance to live in it.”
CONSERVACIÓN Y RESTAURACIÓN. Con Jill no tuvimos muchas idas y vueltas: ella sabía perfectamente lo que quería lograr en su casa y sabía que podía lograrlo a través de nuestros diseños. “I am one of those people who always knew they wanted to study architecture! (An obsession with Legos, Lincoln Logs and designing tiny cardboard houses for my Smurfs were all sure signs I wanted to shape the way people live!)” nos cuenta. Luego de vivir cuatro años en Vicente López, finalmente reunió la confianza para abordar este proyecto. Uno de sus principales aspectos fueron todos los detalles y elementos de la arquitectura original del departamento. Dedicaron gran parte del tiempo en obra a restaurar y resaltar estos elementos: “This was absolutely fundamental to the success, and why we fell in the love with the building and the apartment originally. We celebrated all the original aspects of the apartment, while bringing something new and unique to this highly personal creation. After ten years of living, working and raising a family in Seattle, Beijing, Hong Kong and finally in Buenos Aires, I could not avoid bringing a usual mix of influences to this project. The architecture of the original apartment was absolutely charming, but in a state of total deterioration. Some terrible renovations had almost erased some of the spaces and much of the original beauty required care to carefully peel the decay layers and bring out it’s best features out. The details in these buildings in Buenos Aires are unique and special - and as an architect - it’s a dream come true to work on them. Some examples of the details we fell in love with were the original marble fireplace and mirror in the family room. This was certainly the starting point for the entire design. This fireplace, with its ornamentation, the beautiful, deeply-veined marble, the formal symmetry of the space, it was formidable and beautiful and inspired respect and was a wonderful backdrop against which we loved layering some very modern accents (such as the leather BKF-inspired chairs, the leather rugs, the clean lines of the furniture, the modern light fixtures). The fireplace functions, and we inserted a gas insert so that we can easily and quickly light a fire and enjoy a burst of visual and actual warmth on chilly nights! Rather than rip out existing doors or windows, we asked carpenters to restore the existing wood and replace glass as needed. Though it might be easier to trash neglected elements in old apartments, the character and craft they bring are beyond special, and worth caring for and restoring.”
EL PROYECTO. Fue arriesgado pero preciso, al entrar al departamento pareciera que nada está fuera de lugar, como si siempre hubiese tenido esa distribución y detalles. Es exactamente la experiencia que uno espera al ingresar a un típico departamento céntrico de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires, con mucha personalidad. Son espacios completamente conectados con el estilo del edificio donde se encuentra: “The interior design was completely driven by the apartment, the building and the city. I’m always driven by context in each project that I do. I think it just makes sense. Connecting to the sense of place is a fundamental human need that I’m not sure all people appreciate. Especially as the mother in a family that has lived in many countries, I know from experience that you shouldn’t try to create some bizarre stylistic island that is utterly disconnected from the context in which you live. It will leave you also feeling rather isolated and disconnected from the world - which is a sad way to live. I think it’s a key to happiness to embrace the place you live, find the best in it, find inspiration in it, and reflect that in your immediate environment. For that reason, each home I design for my family or others is driven by the people and the context. It’s how we feel healthy, happy and connected to the world and each other. Who wants to live in a Swiss Chalet or an Italianate palazzo in the middle of the suburbs? I’ve never understood that, but always suspected the people in those houses maybe feel a little bit uncomfortable and probably don’t even know why.”
La luz hace su magia en la totalidad del espacio, y esto probablemente tenga mucho que ver con la elección de la paleta de colores: “I choose a very simple and warm white paint color to brighten and bring to life the historical details with some gestures in a deep blue / black "oil" to highlight the warm white. I am an architect at heart, which is to say I have spent most of my career doing entire buildings, and focused on form, and how light and shadow play upon those forms. I think for this reason, even when I find myself now working on finish details in interior projects, it’s clear my obsession with light and shadow plays out in selection visual “textures” in black, white and grey. I have loved the direction I have been able to explore in my work of recent years, in not only designing the architecture of the space, but also having the opportunity to carry out every finish detail using amazing patterns (such as the NOI tiles used in the Recoleta apartment). While I am not afraid of using color - I chose in this project to limit the permanent finishes to the clean, crisp palette of greys, blacks and whites in the four bathrooms and kitchen in order to maintain a cohesiveness throughout the home, which has a very calming and peaceful effect as you move through all of the spaces and can feel the common thread of an idea played out in different ways. It all builds upon what the architecture was trying to do.” A pesar de que la elección de colores neutros fue la predominante en el Proyecto, la personalidad de esta familia quedó definitivamente plasmada en cada espacio: “We left it through the daring patterns and textures that we presented in the traditional cement tiles, furnitures and fabrics, which reflects our travels, as well as the realities of our family. It was a real work made with love for us and represents a mix of our family and everything we love from our adopted home here in Buenos Aires.”
La apuesta de integrar la cocina con un “family-room” en este estilo clásico fué lo que Jill describe como el desafío más difícil de la obra: “Moving the formal dining room to the center in order to have a family room, next to a large kitchen, and opening the wall between these two spaces was a risk, but I love the result. With the light now coming in from both sides (a real luxury in an urban apartment) and a family-entertaining space that allows us to be together while we all do different activities, was a perfect fit for our family.” Otro elemento importante en este espacio fue la mesa que diseñó, que funciona como transición entre estos dos espacios: “The table works as a transition between the living room and the kitchen, so cooking can happen one side, and the kids can play or watch television on the other, or anyone who wanted to be between these activities could sit at the huge table and talk, or do homework, or drink or work! This was really the point in the project where our traditional apartment in Recoleta met the traditions of our family and the way we live. We love cooking, and maybe like many families, we no longer want the kitchen to be a dark, separate room at the back of the house. We want it to be a place to cook together, with our kids and friends. It is one of our favorite ways of being together. Since we moved to the house, this long table is at the very center of the action, between the "family room" and the kitchen where we spend most of our time.” En esta oportunidad fue una colaboración con la gente de Bonarda BA: “They created the tables for the kitchen and comedor. They were brave and enthusiastic and supportive in working on these long and unique tables that were central to the success of these two spaces. Working with the various trades involved in the construction process became my favorite part of the project. I learned so much from everyone and enjoyed so much understanding construction methods and the craft of making materials here in Argentina. The process and the craft, the personality of the people I worked with are all a unique combination and I found it fascinating and inspiring. I actually love going to the obra - it’s where I learn and connect and collaborate and there’s no better way to spend my day.”
Otra apuesta fue darle el mismo carácter a la parte privada que a los espacios principales: “We repaired damaged molding throughout and added moldings into the private hallways and bedrooms that had been omitted in the original design.”, nos cuenta que de otra manera los espacios parecían desconectados entre si: “There were lavish details only in public spaces and rather mean, unadorned walls leading back to bedrooms. I wanted the light, classic, warm white details we restored and highlighted in the front to be carried through for a visual continuity that would make the entire apartment feel welcoming, calm and peaceful.”
Por supuesto que vivir el sueño de la casa propia nos ilusiona a todes, y el mejor consejo que la arquitecta encontró para darnos es la Paciencia: “Anything that is beautiful, and most importantly original, takes time and patience. Remember you are truly authoring a one-of-a-kind creation and there isn’t really anything more challenging, magical and fulfilling that you can do. It’s more than art - it’s art you live in, and it is absolutely packed with incredibly technical elements that all must be coordinated. There are so many people and supply issues and pre-existing conditions that must be reckoned with - so be patient and above all be flexible. I am always making course-corrections throughout a project to respond to unforeseen circumstances and in the end, I think the project is always better. Be prepared for setbacks and know this is a natural part of any project.”
Y algunas otras cositas más para tener en cuenta: “Set aside a contingency in your budget (I recommend 10 to 15%) so that you aren’t in crisis if unforeseen circumstances arise, or if you simply want to splurge a bit more along the way. Finally - remember - it’s just a house! Your home isn’t you - and even if you didn’t achieve absolutely everything you set out to do, or went a bit over budget, it’s just a house and you’ll probably find yourself very, very happy and proud of what you’ve accomplished. Finally - have faith that your architect really wants to help you realize your vision, but can’t control everything. Architects have seen it all and can guide clients through just about any problems that arises!"
MATERIALIDADES. En este departamento conviven el mármol, la madera, la piedra, bronce, pana, y muchos materiales más en total armonía. Pero pudiendo elegir casi cualquier material para desarrollar este proyecto, Jill insiste que un mosaico calcáreo tiene un carácter único que se diferencia de cualquier otro revestimiento: “It is certainly not for everyone - but as a designer who has used just about every kind of tile possible, it was exactly what I wanted and what this project needed.”. En su larga experiencia ha trabajado con distintas materialidades y asegura que cada una es la correcta para un determinado tipo de proyecto, pero en este punto en su carrera está buscando trabajar con materiales que sean inspiradores: “I am trying to create environments that bring us closer to a real sense of being, the character of a place, the essence of where we are. For the same reason we travel, I search for design solutions that make us feel like we are living authentically. For me, cement tiles, especially in Buenos Aires, feel so appropriate. It may be cheaper and easier to install mass-produced tiles from China - but the subtle sterility of living with those tiles every day won’t bring the same joy and connection that a hand-made tile with a connection to this place can bring. The texture, the pattern, it all combines to help us feel more deeply connected to time and place and that sort of connection is a real luxury.
The only obstacle of sorts in the installation of these tiles involved changing everyone’s mind-set from thinking that the installation of these tiles would be or even should be quick, like porcelain tile. Once our contractor and tile installer understood that this was indeed a slower process, and that was okay, everyone was happy and I believe even enjoyed creating such a beautiful and unique installation. I always tell contractors in these situations that my objective is not to simply do everything the quickest possible way, but rather the best way. I think once everyone on the team agrees that it’s not about fast and cheap but what the best solution is (for your budget), things go much more smoothly. It’s a subtle but very important conversation I always have with people I work with."
Jill nos cuenta que recuerda cuando se encontró con nuestro sitio web y sintió como si el proyecto terminara de cerrar: “I know it would not have been the same without their gorgeous designs. In fact, I remember before I stumbled across their studio, I was literally hitting my head on my drawing board trying to figure out what on earth I was going to use. I just knew I needed a material with the gravitas that their exceptional cement tiles offered. I needed something timeless and classic, yet fresh. I wanted something that felt at home in such a historical context, yet also spoke to me and my family, a crazy mob of Americans who actually love modern architecture and design too. What on earth can accomplish all of that? It was like divine intervention when I found their website. In fact, I think my research-crazy husband found their website and I remember my vision for the entire project really falling into place from that point onward. On more practical terms, their responsiveness to my queries was incredible, their design and support service exceptional, even accommodating my entire rowdy family on a Saturday to dig through their studio. They provided samples, visited the site, helped develop patterns, produce quotes, check quantities, and even tried to expedite production to help keeps things running smoothly. They were the dream team.”
La admiración fue mutua, y nuestro disfrute aún mayor. Es un verdadero placer trabajar en proyectos como estos y con profesionales como Jill que entienden los procesos artesanales y los sienten propios: “I think the alchemy created with the traditional methods of making cement tile, and the completely fresh and exciting colors and patterns, informed by years of traditions in pattern and design, results in such an incredibly rich finish material - it was the prime inspiration for so many spaces in our project. I really felt such synergy with the creative goals of the NOI designers and what I was trying to accomplish in this project. I wanted something beautifully-crafted, timeless, fresh, classic, unique and poetic. No other material would have been right for this house. I can’t imagine doing porcelain or even ceramic tiles in this project. Only cement tiles had grace and presence and historical weight to stand up to the original architecture. It’s certainly not a material for the faint of heart. It takes talent and time and care to use well, but I think, I hope, these surfaces will be cherished for generations. I really do hope that.”
EXTRA (SOBRE BUENOS AIRES). "My recommendation to friends is to pick a neighborhood each day - find a lovely place for lunch and spend the day wandering. There are so many gorgeous hidden gems in each neighborhood, tiny shops and amazing designers to discover that wandering around, grabbing a coffee at an outdoor and/or classic cafe for some people-watching is my idea of a perfect day. I love Villa Crespo, obviously my “home” neighborhood of Recoleta (with the essential stop of Le Ble for brunch!), Palermo, and I wouldn’t miss a trip to Fundacion Proa and a walk around La Boca. I think MALBA is a top-notch museum and must-see for international tourists and a coffee and bite at Croque Madame next to the Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo is always a lovely place to pass a few hours.
EXTRA (SOBRE PRÓXIMOS PASOS). "I miss Argentina so much! I find that everywhere I go in San Francisco, however, people I meet are so fascinated by Argentina and want to know absolutely everything about the country and the people. I feel so happy and pleased that I get to talk about my life there so much. I’m proud I am able to tell people about what a wonderful place it is, and I love speaking Spanish to all of the spanish-speaking Americans I meet here from all over the world (and they seem to enjoy my Argentine-accent!).I am currently searching for a home here in the Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco to remodel for my own family. I think taking on a complete wreck of an apartment, stripping it and remodeling it much like I did our apartment in Recoleta will be an excellent way to re-engage with the design scene here in San Francisco before I can start my own practice working for clients. Stay tuned!"